Popular myth tells that in 448 the Saxons became masters of the whole of Lancashire in 448 AD and seized the Roman Fort at Castlefield, once again raising its walls and building a castle within it.
Led by Torquin, a monster of a man in both size and reputation and who was said to have kept sixty four brave knights in bondage within its walls until they were rescued by St Lancelot.
In reality we know little of this time in Manchester, there are no written records of either Lancashire or Cheshire during this time so are left interpreting the Anglo Saxon Chronicle for clues as to Manchester’s Dark Ages History.
This part of the country lay on the border between the influence of the Saxon State of Mercia and the Northern counties, first ruled by the Angles and then the Danes. The River Mersey was the boundary between the two and there is little doubt that Manchester would have suffered in the conflicts between them.
There may have been some truth in the legend of St Lancelot, though rather than being shrouded in Arthurian legend, it could have been an account of the Angles retaking Manchester’s castle around 550 AD.
The Angles controlled a huge swathe of territory, holding lands from the Humber and the Mersey to the Firth of Forth under their chief King Ida. The region would fall under the control of the state of Deira which covers modern day Lancashire and Yorkshire as well as the Lake District.
There were two battles, one at Chester around 613 when the Northumbrian army defeated the Welsh; or the old Britons, and took control of the Lancashire plain and much of Cheshire.
There was a second battle of Maserfelth in 642 when the combined army of the Welsh and Mercians defeated Northumbria which saw Mercia reclaim the Cheshire plain. Quite where this battle took place is unclear though modern day Makerfield between Warrington and Wigan is a possibility.
Christianity came to Manchester at the beginning of the seventh century after Edwin, King of Northumberland was baptised in York in 627, the origins of Manchester’s first church could well have been around this time and according to the eighteenth century history Whitaker was built on the site of the Saxon summer camp at the confluence of the Irk and the Irwell where Manchester Cathedral now stands.
The first Danish ships arrived on the East Coast of Northern England in 787 AD and Manchester may well have been a place of refuge for people fleeing South. Soon the Vikings were establishing forts along the West Coast and on the river systems.
When or if they reached Manchester is uncertain though one source claims that around 870 AD the town had been destroyed as the Danes took control of the kingdom of Northumbria capturing York around AD 866 and installing a puppet king and heading south to attack the Kingdom of Mercia below the Mersey.
The Danes would be famously stopped in the South by King Alfred at the battle of Ashdown in Berkshire in 871
By 900 AD Mercia began to defend its territory against the Danes, building fortified Burgh’s along the boundary and the name Didsbury could well have originated from this.
Manchester could have been one of those fortified locations as the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in 919 AD says that:-
“King Edward went with troops in the later part of the Autumn to Thelwall and ordered the borough to be built occupied and manned. He ordered another army also of the Mercians to go while he stayed there to Manchester in Northumbria to repair and man it.”